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A Comity of Errors

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View Tom Turner's blog posts
17 September 2008, 4:47 PM

Judge Clarence Brimmer of the federal district court in Wyoming must feel a bit under siege. He's doing battle with two other federal district court judges, one in San Francisco, the other in Washington, DC. Judges are encouraged to respect each other's opinions—it's called comity, otherwise known as courtesy or deference—and comity is taking a bit of a beating these days.

First it had to do with snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park. The Clinton administration moved to phase out solo snow machines in favor of quieter, cleaner snow coaches. The Bush administration moved to dissolve the phase-out. Environmental groups sued and Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, DC reinstated the phaseout. So snowmobile manufacturers turned to Judge Brimmer with their own suit, and Judge Brimmer contradicted Judge Sullivan, observing that no judge 2,000 miles away was going to dictate matters in his bailiwick.

Next came the Roadless Rule, which Judge Brimmer ruled illegal in 2003, only to have Judge Elizabeth Laporte in California reinstate it in 2006, having found a Bush administration substitute rule illegal and the repeal of the original rule illegal as well. This past August, Judge Brimmer reinstated his earlier injunction, effectively overruling Judge Laporte.

And just this week, Judge Sullivan one-upped Judge Brimmer again, ruling that the Bush snowmobile plan for Yellowstone is illegal.

The courts of appeals will have to sort out these conflicts. All very unbecoming the dignity of the courts.

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